Beer Brands That Should be Retired

Discussion
Apr 27, 2009

By Tom Ryan

According to consumers
polled from YouGovPolimetrix, the reputation of four beer brands with considerable
history – Busch, Ice House, Keystone and Milwaukee’s Best – are
so bad that the breweries should consider retiring them.

YouGovPolimetrix’ Brand
Index, which tracks 30 beer brands, found none of those four brands have
a single positive score in the ranking based on surveys of men from January
this year through mid-April. The scores are based on satisfaction, quality,
impression, reputation, value and recommendation.

Ted Marzilli, SVP and
global managing director for YouGov, told mediapost.com that the
four brands have ranked at the bottom in the two years the research firm
has been following the category. Keystone and Milwaukee’s Best rate much
lower than Busch and Ice House

Milwaukee’s Best, owned
by Miller Brewing Co. and introduced in 1984 as its budget label, had a
minus-20 ranking. That was followed in ascending order by Keystone, Ice
House and Busch, at minus-10. The industry average in the index is currently
around 4.9.

Keystone,
owned by Coors, was introduced as a budget label by Coors in 1989.

Busch, owned by A-B/InBev,
is relatively popular among 50-plus consumers, lower-income consumers and
those in the Midwest, according to Mr. Marzilli. The brand was introduced
in 1955 as a value alternative by Anheuser-Busch.

Icehouse, which Miller
Brewing launched in 1994 and one of the first beers made using the ice-brewing
process, “has a niche among African-Americans and is rated more highly
by women; its selling points are that it is less bitter, and crisper than
others,” said Marzilli.

The top five beers in
the rankings in order were Samuel Adams, Heineken, Guinness, Corona and
Michelob.

YouGovPolimetrix’s Brand
Index interviews 5,000 people each weekday from a representative U.S. population
sample, constituting some 1.2 million interviews per year.

Discussion Question:
What criteria should guide when a brand should be retired? Which of the
four potential “retired” brands mentioned – Busch, Ice House,
Keystone and Milwaukee’s Best – is worth saving and why?

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22 Comments on "Beer Brands That Should be Retired"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
13 years 24 days ago

A brand should be retired when too few people are buying it to make a profit, not based on ratings. Of course these beers rate poorly–they are meant to be a low-end product at a low-end price. My college and grad school days were filled with beers like National Bohemian and Narragansett and while I am now appalled that I ever drank that stuff (especially for you NE folk who’ve seen the Narragansett River), it was all we could afford.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 24 days ago

I love this report. Question: What were the sales of these four brands? Did they make any profit to their owners? Is interviewing 5000 people going to give you a broad enough sample in a country with over 350 million? Oh, yeah, what were the sales again? Beer companies know what they are doing when it comes to branding and this report doesn’t take into account small things like money. Retire what doesn’t sell. Am I out of line here?

Dick Seesel
Guest
13 years 24 days ago

The common theme here is that all four brands in question are positioned as budget alternatives to the national brands with big ad budgets. Many of the criteria used to judge their viability depend in part on brand imagery, which in the case of these brands focuses on “cheap,” not quality, reputation or impression. These are not status brands by any means.

But is there anything inherently wrong with this brand position? Obviously the brewers in question have identified a niche and target market for these products, and (based on their longevity) have figured out how to make money selling them. Perhaps the best advice is to reformulate the beers if changing tastes are driving up the “negatives” on flavor, but continue to fill the market space for this sort of product.

Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 24 days ago

Are these brands selling? Are they profitable for their owners? If so, why should they be retired? The key is to manage the brand within its niche and keep users loyal.

Marge Laney
Guest
13 years 24 days ago

Amen Stephen!

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
13 years 24 days ago

I don’t doubt that there are beers with brand images so poor that they should be retired. As a retailer allocating shelf-space, though, I would want to look at purchasers of those brands as a behavioral segment. If those beers can bring in profitable shoppers or win back trips from other channels then they might be worth keeping on the shelf.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
13 years 24 days ago
As I look at today’s headlines and hear what GM plans to do in order to remain viable, I have to believe they must now be the experts on making this decision. What obviously comes to mind is, “How really unique are the brands?” If the brand is only the result of throwing a different label on the “bright stock,” then it is probably not a big deal to carry multiple brands. This kind of makes you wonder why GM has decided to stop Pontiac. On the other hand, if you are talking about completely different production techniques and the need to maintain extra processes or plants such as Hummer, then you have to really understand if the brand is worth perpetuating. Having said all that, I have seen over and over how retailers trying to leverage the output from a single distribution and office network have failed by making their Banners indistinguishable. For retail, it is important that the merchandising and operating management for Banners addressing different market segments remain independent. You can’t expect… Read more »
Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 24 days ago

Once we come to terms with the fact that most beer, regardless of brand, tastes pretty much the same, we can then move on to understanding that a beer brand is in large part the result of good marketing. So if the beer companies really want to up the ratings of these lonesome four (should they even care?), just tweak the marketing. This worked for Black Label back in the 80s.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 24 days ago

Nothing is financially worse
Than when a famous-named beer
No longer arouses our thirst.

Beers are like the winds, they come and go. In my college days we had many beers to quaff: Stag, Stern Brau, Alpen Brau, Hyde Park, Falstaff, Pabst, Ballentine, Griesedick Bros, Budweiser and a horrible–but cheap–beer sold behind the Green Door at The Shack. They have all–save for Bud–slipped into the drain of oblivion as more contemporary brewing methods and names have taken the foam off the top of the old timers.

John Roberts
Guest
John Roberts
13 years 24 days ago

Every brand owned by a large consumer product company doing less than $50,000,000 and not growing faster than its category should be on the watch list. Niche marketing is best left to more focused entities uninhibited by corporate restraints.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
13 years 24 days ago

I have to lend my support to Stephen’s comments. Money in the form of profits is the only rational basis for the decision to continue a brand or not. Regarding what we drank after returning from the service–Piels was the brand–not because it compared favorably to the great German beer I had been drinking but because it was something a job-seeking husband and father could afford.

Steven Collinsworth
Guest
13 years 24 days ago
Beer Brands Discontinued…oh no! My favorite refreshment on the chopping block…oh no! Can they do that? Is that legal? Dang…. Obviously tongue in cheek, but two of the brands on the list were Busch which I grew up on and entered adulthood drinking and then Ice House which I absolutely loved because it has a great taste and was one of the premier ice beers from the 90s. (…sigh…) I guess I have to stock up on them and buy in truckload quantities. Beer brands are no different than any other brand on the market today. If it doesn’t perform or hold any appeal to a specific consumer segment large enough to make it worthwhile to maintain, then it must be managed out of the assortments. Unfortunately for both of these brands, it seems as though the companies had other ideas for their brand portfolio than continuing their investment stream in a declining ROI brand. They became the “price brand” or the also-rans. But with the current economic chaos, we will most likely continue to… Read more »
David Schulz
Guest
David Schulz
13 years 24 days ago

I hate to be reiterative, but as others have already said, the breweries and sales of the brand should be the determining factors. If public perception of marketing made the brand worth retaining, the Burt and Harry would still be selling Piels, and Shultz and Dooley would be the biggest beer peddlers in upstate New York.

Kai Clarke
Guest
13 years 24 days ago

This is a simple concept. Do the brands still make money? If so, the brand is delivering profits to the bottom line, and that is what the beer business (or any business) is all about. The fact that they score low has something to do with their “value” position, but may also reflect the position of the companies to use these as simple budget brands with little or no marketing support or image positioning.

In the end, if they deliver profits to the bottom line, no amount of surveys should be considered valid in considering to retire the brands just because a survey indicates that they are not as popular as other brands.

Warner Granade
Guest
Warner Granade
13 years 24 days ago

In addition to the previous comments, there is also the “cooler appeal” question for those with little preference. IceHouse packaging jumps out at you more than the others.

Jack Otten
Guest
Jack Otten
13 years 24 days ago

I find it hard to believe that Milwaukee’s Best (aka Beast) doesn’t make money. Look at the ad campaigns they’ve launched, especially through the World Series of Poker on ESPN. Someone is buying it!

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
13 years 24 days ago

Discontinuing brands and then bringing them back years later has proven to drive the nostalgic value of tired, old names. However, SKU/Brand rationalization must not be an emotional process. Clear metrics, like some of those already mentioned already herein, allow consistent performance throughout the product range.

The automotive industry was brought up in a prior post above. I am usually the first to bring up transferring best practices from other industries, however there may be few successes in this instance. I’m sure it’s due to the economic recession more than necessarily the act of bring back any nameplates.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
13 years 24 days ago

I don’t know what you’re drinking Marc, but *good* beer most definitely does not all pretty much taste the same! That said, these particular brands should not necessarily be mentioned in the same sentence with the word “taste” but as others have rightly noted, that is not the point. If they profitably fill a niche, they have reason to exist and even flourish.

Still, there is a limit to anyone’s tolerance, prompting a little nostalgia. When I was social chair for my fraternity we negotiated a deal with the local distributor to get a free 3-keg cooler to replace our aging one if we switched from Busch to Old Milwaukee (which was less expensive anyway) for the semester. It lasted one term. Apparently OM was further than we were willing to go for cheap beer!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
13 years 24 days ago

I was surprised–contrary to the statement of “considerable history”–how little history these brands have: I thought Busch dated back to the 19th Century (or maybe it’s just a sign that I’m getting old that 20–or even 50–years doesn’t seem very long.) But it’s not like dumping, say, Marshall Field’s…not that anyone would be foolish enough to do THAT!

(A note to Ms. Levy: IIRC from my stat classes, it’s absolute sample size, not size relative to the population, that determines accuracy…though one could ask if there are enough drinkers of these particular brands within the 5,000 to be a meaningful sample.)

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
13 years 24 days ago

Definitely the focus should be on shoppers buying the brands–not the survey numbers. Also, there is likely to be stronger regional preferences, so it may make sense to consider the demographics of the remaining “true-blue” consumers. Probably worth a look as well at channel preferences–some brands are likely to sell more strongly in say convenience/liquor store/discount outlets rather than grocery stores.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
13 years 23 days ago

Wow. Look at the number of responses to this question.

There’s a special allure to Bad Beer. Mediocre brands like “Milwaukee’s BEAST” stir memories of college, loud music, and friends who have slipped from view. The brands discussed in the setup piece are around because people are buying them. Next time you want to keep it real, pick up a Carling, or a Rolling Rock, or another low-prestige brew that bring back memories.

Johan Sauer
Guest
Johan Sauer
13 years 23 days ago

Interesting how old brands like Schlitz and PBR are now hot boutique brands. As I recall, IceHouse was a big deal when it first launched as a product from the Plank Road Brewery (aka Miller). As long as they are making money and have a clear positioning, why shouldn’t these brands continue? …You never know when Busch might be cool again.

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